Tanzania and the Palestinian Struggle

The current conflict between Israelis and Palestinians has once again brought to the forefront the suffering of the Palestinian people. It has reignited the debate on collective punishment they are made to endure as well as the unequal application of firepower by Israel.  After close to 20 days of Israeli air raids followed by a ground invasion of Gaza, the casualties from the conflict have been lopsided, with 80% to 90% of the casualties on the Palestinian side being civilians. The death toll has climbed to over 1,000 Palestinians killed and 5,500 wounded.  On the Israeli side, 42 soldiers and 3 civilians have lost their lives in the conflict. It begs the question: what is the value of a Palestinian life?

While there are no easy answers to bringing peace in the Middle East, what is apparent to those who dare say it is that Israel policies on Palestine have continued to violate basic human rights. It was partly due to this that many African countries broke off their diplomatic relations with Israel during the Yom Kippur War of October 1973. Today however, the landscape has changed significantly, with previous staunch supporters of the Palestinian cause in Africa sufficiently neutralized by Israel’s diplomatic and economic push in the region.

Take the example of Tanzania, which under its first leader Julius Nyerere, provided the moral leadership to the rest of Africa on the Palestinian question. After gaining her own independence in 1961, the country’s top mission was to support liberation of other countries still under colonial yoke, including those under Apartheid in South Africa and Namibia, as well as the Palestinian cause.  Mwalimu Nyerere spoke forcefully in support of Palestinian right to self-determination as early as 1967 after the Six-Day War when he delivered a speech on Tanzania’s foreign policy based on principles of justice and freedom for all human beings irrespective of where they lived. This policy guided the country’s foreign policy for many years during his tenure which ended in retirement in 1985. The following excerpts from the speech are relevant to Middle East:

“Our desire for friendship with every other nation does not, however, mean that we can be unconcerned with world events, or that we should try to buy that friendship with silence on the great issues of world peace and justice. If it is to be meaningful, friendship must be able to withstand honesty in international affairs. Certainly we should refrain from adverse comments on the internal affairs of other states, just as we expect them to do with regard to ourselves. ..

“The establishment of the state of Israel was an act of aggression against the Arab people. It was connived at by the international community because of the history of persecution against the Jews. This persecution reached its climax in the murder by Nazi Germany of six million Jewish men, women, and children … The survivors of this persecution sought security in a Jewish national state in Arab Palestine. The international community accepted this. The Arab states did not and could not accept that act of aggression. We believe that there cannot be lasting peace in the Middle East until the Arab states have accepted the fact of Israel. But the Arab states cannot be beaten into such acceptance. On the contrary, attempts to coerce the Arab states into recognizing Israel – whether it be by refusal to relinquish occupied territory, or by an insistence on direct negotiations between the two sides – would only make such acceptance impossible”.

“In expressing our hope that a peaceful settlement of this terribly difficult situation will soon become possible, it is necessary for us to accept two things. First, Israel’s desire to be acknowledged as a nation is understandable. But second, and equally important, that Israel’s occupation of the territories of UAR [now Egypt], Jordan and Syria, must be brought to an end. Israel must evacuate the areas she overran in June this year -without exception – before she can reasonably expect Arab countries will begin to acquiesce in her national presence. Israel has had her victory, at terrible cost in human lives. She must now accept that the United Nations which sanctioned her birth is, and must be, unalterably opposed to territorial aggrandizement by force or threat of force.”

“That is Tanzania’s position. We recognize Israel and wish to be friendly with her as well as with the Arab nations. But we cannot condone aggression on any pretext, nor accept victory in war as a justification for the exploitation of other lands, or government over other peoples.”

Tanzania had established formal diplomatic relations with Israel in 1963 before severing them in 1973, when it recognized the PLO as a legitimate representative of the Palestinian people and becoming the first African country to allow the PLO to open an Embassy in Dar es Salaam. During those 10 years of diplomatic relationship with Israel, Tanzania benefited from development assistance and investments towards agriculture, infrastructure development and security cooperation among others. Regarding this beneficial cooperation he was receiving at the time, Mwalimu Nyerere said “while it [Israel] was a small country it could contribute a great deal to his country since Tanzania faced similar problems to the Jewish state. The two main issues facing both countries, he said, were (1) to build a nation and (2) change the landscape, both physically and economically.”  unnamed

It is said that Nyerere’s Ujamaa villagization program was modelled after the Kibbutz system and his agricultural cooperative schemes were adopted from Moshav model. Many roads in the main city of Dar es Salaam were built by the Israelis, such as the Port Access road now renamed Mandela Expressway. The Israelis even built their own Embassy there, which they had to abandon in 1973. The embassy building was later taken over by the Americans who moved their own embassy there in 1980 (it was the same building that was bombed in 1998 together with the US Embassy in Nairobi). 

Relations between Tanzania and Israel were not restored until February 1995. By then, Mwalimu Nyerere was no longer in power. The majority of the other 25 or so African countries which had broken ties with Israel in 1973 had reestablished them, with a big wave taking place between 1991 and 1994 as a result of the Oslo Accords. Some countries like Malawi, Swaziland and Lesotho have never broken their ties with Israel at any point in time, enjoying continuous friendship throughout the troubled times of the Middle East Wars. Today, more than 40 African nations have diplomatic relations with Israel, with only a handful still refusing to either recognize her (Algeria, Libya, Sudan and Somalia) or yet to establish diplomatic ties with her (Guinea,  Mali, Niger, Mauritania, Chad, Comoros, Tunisia, Morocco and Djibouti). 

By 1995, Tanzanian foreign policy had evolved from that of liberation and common brotherhood of man, to a new era of “economic diplomacy”. The idea was to make foreign policy a tool to support economic transformation, focusing on the pursuit of economic objectives, while at the same time preserving the gains of the past and consolidating the fundamental principles of Tanzania’s traditional foreign policy.”  However, the effect of this policy change is that Tanzania’s voice on matters such as the Palestinian cause has faded. Many blame not just the change in policy but the current crop of leaders failing to maintain the spirit of Nyerere’s moral leadership. The government is accused of not being quick as they used to be in condemning atrocities against Palestinians, and when they eventually issue statements, they amount to empty words with no concrete actions or repercussions, not even the mobilization of citizens to publicly demonstrate and voice their support as used to happen in Nyerere’s day. In a documentary interview last year, Tanzania’s Foreign Minister Bernard Membe denied any outside pressure or lobby to soften their stance saying, “our support for the Palestinian cause is unwavering. It’s principled and nobody can uproot it. The world is smart and clever. They know these are some of the areas that Tanzania cannot be touched.” 

On the eighth day of the ongoing crisis, during a press conference Minister Membe condemned the killings of innocent civilians in Gaza and “called on Israel to stop their ongoing aggression on the Gaza Strip” and also called on “the armed Palestinian groups to stop firing rockets into Israel.”  Ironically, the government newspaper buried this condemnation inside another story about plan to take Ambassadors accredited to Tanzania to visit the mausoleum of Mwalimu Nyerere. You can’t make this stuff up. Even Foreign Ministry’s own blog story emphasized the issue of dissolving the FDLR rebels in Eastern DRC and mentioned the Gaza remarks in passing. It was after days of mounting pressure from different corners that the Ministry released a separate statement fully focusing on the current situation in Gaza.  

Meanwhile, while the crisis is ongoing, media reports were full of stories about the Israeli Ambassador to Tanzania making the rounds to bid farewell to national leaders at the end of his tour of duty. The story on Gaza was never featured in the reporting, instead a lot of emphasis on the economic cooperation with Israel, who will soon open a fully-fledged embassy in Tanzania instead of being accredited from Nairobi.  It is unlikely that Tanzania will rush to open an embassy in Tell Aviv any time soon, but for the first time it accredited its Ambassador in Cairo, Egypt to represent the country in Israel. The relationship is thriving and over 6,000 Israeli tourists are expected to visit Tanzania this year through weekly “tourism-oriented flights” from Tel Aviv to Kilimanjaro operated by the El Al airline. 

Dr. Azaveli Lwaitama of University of Dar es Salaam, wonders about the usefulness of the colorful statements in support of Palestinian cause from countries like Tanzania while at the same time allowing Israel to continue “weaving itself in the economic fabric” of the country.  Prof. Azaria Mbughuni of Spelman College in Atlanta, who has extensively researched Tanzania’s contribution in the liberation of Southern Africa, still believes that the issues of justice and human rights remain relevant in Africa’s foreign policy and need to be fully restored.  He says that, “the struggle of Palestinians is a struggle for human rights. It is not a struggle for a particular religion, for the Palestinian people belong to different religious creeds; it is not a struggle for race, for the Palestinian people come in different shades; it is a struggle for land, it is a struggle for the basic human principles of freedom, dignity, and the right to self-determination”. 



  1. It seems that so many people conveniently ignore the fact that Israel existed at least 5000 years ago. Another fact that seems to be conveniently ignored is the continual rejection of Israel and the call for it’s total destruction and the annihilation of its peoples.Why blame Israel for being the superior military force in ’68 and ’73? Who was the aggressor in those years and still the aggressors today? It is time the Arab (Muslim) countries accept Israel as a nation that will not be going away very soon or easily and realise that they are the real racists that suffer from zenophobia. From what I can deduce, Israel has no problem with its neighbours, its the neighbours that have a problem with Israel. Let’s be honest, if Israel drops its guard for one day it will be history so the old adage of “good fences make good neighbours” is very appropriate in ts case. By the way, I’m neither Jewish nor religious in any way, I leave that for the insane.

    1. Invoking the existence of The Kingdom of Israel of around 900 BC in the Holy Land( Palestine ) to justify the creation of Israel in 1948 has been the greatest injustice to the expelled inhabitants of that land(Palestine) since then as well as the greatest lie and falsification of history.Why do I say So?
      Because the settlers who have emigrated to Israel from Europe and who are still arriving there today to grab more land from Palestinians have absolutely no anthropological,geneological and racial linkage with the ancient Hebrew tribes of CANAAN where the Kingdom of Israel was established by the biblical King Saul.The settlers from Europe are mostly generations of East Europeans of the Slavic stock (race).Even the founders of Israel in 1948 were mostly East European including Poles,Russians,Ukrainians etc.The ancestors of these East Europeans were originally Christians who converted to Judaism(Jewish religion) before the Middle Ages.
      The source of the problem in the Holy Land (Palestine),Mr egteSafrican, is the ideology and movement of Zionism which postulates that all believers of Judaism(Jews) have a right to go and settle in Palestine, dispossessing the non-Jewish Palestinian community of Christians,Muslims and other sects in the process thus engendering the perpetual conflict. The analogy would be for example if all the Catholics of the world today launch a movement like Zionism and claim the right of all Catholics to emigrate to the Vatican or all Muslims to claim the right to go and settle in Mecca,Saudi Arabia !!!.
      Judaism as a religion traces its origins to Prophet Abraham who arrived in CANAAN(as Palestine was then called) from SUMERIA( current Iraq ).When the area was conquered by the Ancient Egyptian neighbors the Judaic followers were taken captives and transported to Egypt where they were enslaved by the Pharoes( Kings of Egypt ). Centuries had to elapse before the coming of Prophet Moses who defeated one of the Pharoes and liberated the Jews from captivity by leading them back to CANAAN.The Zionist Jews( not all Jews are Zionists) have adopted the language of the Judaic religion, ancient HEBREW as the language of Israeli citizens such that all setllers are compelled to learn and speak the language to fully become bonafide Israelis.They use their native European languages only in their households.This has been the strategy of the Zionists to reinforce their their bogus claim of ethnical origin to the ancient CANAANITES who adopted Judaism.In this regard the current Palestinians are at a disadvantage in that they, like their northern neighbors the Lebanese(who were known as Phonecians) had over the centuries abandoned their native languages and became ARABISED thereby adopting the Arabic language since the 5th century.AD.
      That’s the reason the Palestinian community of Christians,Muslims speak Arabic.

  2. Interesting, informative and prescient perspective. The one thing I see is that while Israel has not necessarily handled the situation well, the Hamas government makes negotiations difficult as their overall goals end with the complete annihilation of Israel as a state. The Covenant of Hamas clearly states “Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it.” The struggle for land loses legitimacy due to the tactics of the government, it is hard to fathom any state that would negotiate with an adversary with such intentions. Now stuck behind Hamas are the Palestinian people, who are as you described suffering a disproportionate brunt of the violence in this and all conflicts between the two states. This is indeed a humanitarian issue that we as sentient beings should be concerned. It must also be stated that Israel has a hand in the initial creation and early stage support of Hamas, the intention was to create a Palestinian counterbalance to Arafat and the PLO. In my opinion the underlying problem that Palestine faces is the lack of legitimate representation that has only the interests of Palestine and its people as its aims. Hezbollah, Hamas, Fatah etc. all seem to be actors serving as proxies using Palestine as a means to engage Israel. For a true solution both Israel and Palestine must face these harsh but resolvable realities.

  3. The anonymous commentator above is very fair and balanced. why people are biased by feeling sorry for Palestinians while the current eruption came about because of abduction and later killing of Israeli youths by Hamas, Palestinian. Israel is doing the right thing, ,defend and send strong message. criminal acts will be answered by force. No doubt civilian and children losses are regrettable even by IDF ( seen video report) but who picked the fight?. Back in history ( 6-day war etc) had intention to eradicate the Israel nation but failed, repeatedly and got beaten in return. peaceful co-existence is the answer. Mwalimu Nyerere said “Vita havina macho” on Ugand’s Idi Amin War. So, innocent lives will b elost when war ensues and Palestinian started current war

  4. I think the real question here evolves around moral high ground, one could easily argue here that Israel on her part is loosing that moral high ground and this to some degree has led a greater resentment from the international community towards Israel. While not denying Israel’s right to protect is self, the manner in which it has responded against these attacks and the extreme force used will make any sane individual question such actions. What does Israel have to loose with a little self restraint and minimizing collateral damage? I mean hasn’t her message being heard loud and clear? It is time for both parties to come to terms for the sake of the all the innocent lives and the destruction that this war has caused to both civilian populations. In essence both parties are wrong on this one and egos need to be set aside.

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